Japan’s superstar Shohei Ohtani hit his first home run in the World Baseball Classic in Sunday’s win over Australia, then warned quarterfinal opponent Italy that his unbeaten team “can score from anywhere.”
Facing only the second pitch of the game, Otani hit a massive three-run putt that nearly hit a billboard with his face, putting Japan on their way to a 7–1 victory over the Australians.
The victory meant Japan topped Group B with a perfect record of four to four and set up a quarter-final clash with Italy on Thursday.
Otani said winning the tournament at home was a “childhood dream” and warned he was not the only threat in a talented Japanese side.
“We can score from anywhere and the shooters are very tenacious,” he said.
“We are playing well but there are strong teams waiting for us and I want us to prepare for that.”
Japan’s early barrage was so ferocious that Australia replaced starting bowler Will Shreve before half time was over.
Australia coach Dave Nelson called Japan “the best team in the world” and said their performance “wasn’t surprising”.
“I think the turning point was when Otani hit that ball 500 feet in the first half,” he said.
“Anytime they get ahead early in the game, it’s going to be very difficult to chase them down.”
– A mess in the pond A –
Japan has put together a star-studded team that combines the best of the domestic league with major league stars such as Otani.
Expectations were growing that they could win the title for a record third time, and head coach Hideki Kuriyama said he was “relieved” to have secured a place in the quarter-finals.
“All I could think about was getting off the set and moving on,” he said.
“Some of our plays have been good and there are some things we still have to work on. First of all, we’re progressing and I feel good about that.”
Australia, who had a ninth-inning consolation home run from Alex Hall, could join Japan in reaching the quarter-finals if they beat the Czech Republic in their final group match on Monday.
They will play Cuba in Tokyo on Wednesday after a chaotic finish to Group A, which was being played in the Taiwanese city of Taichung.
All five teams finished with identical records of two wins and two defeats, but Cuba emerged as group winners while Italy also qualified as runners-up thanks to a complex tie-breaking system.
The Netherlands, who won their first two matches, were eliminated after losing 7-1 to Italy.
Taiwan was knocked out after losing 7-1 to Cuba, while Panama also missed the cut.
In their Group B matches earlier on Sunday, South Korea beat the Czech Republic 7-3 to claim their first victory in the tournament.
amk / lb / mw